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Comic Review: The Green River Killer

Written by: Neil Davies, Special to CC2K


Jensen’s story expertly walks the line between true-crime thriller and insightful biography.

 

Writer: Jeff Jensen
Artist: Jonathan Case

The Green River Killer, written by Jeff Jensen and illustrated by Jonathan Case, is a true story that centers on the real-life murders of over 49 women, committed by Gary Ridgway, primarily during the 1980s and 90s. While the Ridgway murders are the central focus of the book, the main narrative is about Detective Thomas Jensen, the author’s father, and his decades spent in pursuit of Ridgway.

I have something rather embarrassing to admit about this comic, something I imagine most reviewers would rather not admit. I went into this comic unaware it was a true story. I assumed it was a fictionalized version of a true story that embellished, changed characters, and overall dramatized the events of whatever case this was actually based upon. Therefore, I carried a lot of bias into my first reading of the book. I expected a classic dramatic lift, a thrilling end and a nice and tidy resolution, all the traditional story-telling elements, so to speak. But this comic doesn’t have those elements and I thought less of it for it. However, upon learning about how true of a story it was, my perspective completely changed, and I saw this comic for the excellent, true-to-life telling that it is.

The Green River Killer is a truly fantastic comic, and provides a snapshot into the difficult life of a Detective Jensen, who began his adult life looking for a way to make a comfortable and safe living, and ends his career as a detective who wants to find the truth and help others.

This story starts in one of the more startling and disturbing ways that I’ve read in a long time. It sets a strong tone and purposely leaves readers with a weird taste in their mouths for most of the read. It also quickly puts the reader on edge and then keeps them focused and on their toes by consistently shifting between time periods. The case begins in the early 1980s and continues on until 2003. Throughout this book, the reader sees snapshots of Detective Jensen’s life and experiences with this case, as well as his eventual face-to-face interviews with convicted murderer, and Green River Killer, Gary Ridgway.

 

Jensen continuously and subtly conveys to the reader the magnitude of the weight that his father carried on his shoulders. He often shut himself off from his family, keeping his loved ones at a distance as his way of protecting them from the evils he experienced on a daily basis.

The illustration of this comic is fantastic. The pure black and white tones give this comic a bit of an old school and eerie feeling that builds a natural tension in the reader. Artist Jonathan Case captured the real-life version of these characters so well that after reading this novel and google-ing “Gary Ridgway,” I uttered the words, “Holy shit that’s him,” when I saw, and immediately recognized, the face and soulless eyes that had been expertly illustrated by Case.

One of the elements that make this story great is Detective Jensen’s reluctance in his career. He doesn’t love what he does; he doesn’t get any kind of thrill from chasing down leads or catching the bad guy. More so, he relates his life to Don Quixote’s quest of madness that may or may not ever end. I couldn’t help but see this as a modern-day, and obviously a much smaller scale, version of the award-winning graphic novel Maus; wherein a son interviews his father about his experiences during the Holocaust. Like Maus, The Green River Killer tells the story of the father through the eyes of the son; it captures his breakdowns, difficulties, frustrations and the sacrifice of this one man’s life.

This comic doesn’t have a clearly defined beginning, middle and end, because real-life doesn’t work like that. Rather, we have a story about good men doing what they can to find the truth and bring closure to families that have experienced a horrible loss at the hands of a sadistic mad man.

The Green River Killer finds that important line between being a gripping detective story and an involved and insightful biography. We learn so much about a real-life case and how it was solved, all the while getting a glimpse into the fascinating true-crime elements that make the genre so popular. However, we also see the story of a good, hard-working, noble man searching for the truth, seeing the darkest sides of the world and the mental toll it takes on him. By bringing these two genres together, Jensen has made The Green River Killer a must-read graphic novel.

The Green River Killer was published by Dark Horse Comics and is available today in paperback.

 4.0 out of 5.0

Author: Neil Davies, Special to CC2K

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